Patrick Henry: “Liberty or Death” Speech


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Patrick Henry was born in Hanover County, Virginia, on May 29, 1736, and died in Charlotte County, Virginia, on June 6, 1799. Coming from a family of moderate means, Henry first worked in a country store and then as a farmer. Then he read law—a common practice in the eighteenth century before the establishment of law schools—and was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1760. He soon established a formidable reputation in the courtroom based on his electrifying addresses to juries. One of Henry's early court cases challenged the English Crown's authority to overturn a law passed by the Virginia assembly. Although he lost his case, Henry became a popular colonial leader, lauded for his belief in the colonists' constitutional rights.

When he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765, Henry again earned plaudits for his speech making. He became so outraged over the Stamp Act—which he deemed taxation without representation, since the colonists had not been...

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A drawing depicting Patrick Henry delivering his famous speech (Library of Congress)

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